With its large dairy industry, Kenya produces 652.4 million liters of milk a year; Dominated by small producers, the sector is unfortunately a driver of antibiotic residue in food; Egerton University is developing innovative, cost-effective ways to help detect and arrest antibiotic residue in milk at the farm level.
Resistance to antimicrobials has grown into a top threat to human health worldwide, with the World Health Organization (WHO) first drawing wider public attention to it in November 2021. Antimicrobials include everyday antiseptic, antibiotic, antiviral, antifungal, and antiparasitic treatments, such as the disinfectants normally used to keep surfaces clean.
But WHO says both their misuse and overuse are driving drug-resistance in pathogens like viruses and bacteria, and it has called for urgent, multi-sectoral action, particularly if the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals around food safety and food security are to be met by 2030. These goals include ending hunger and improving nutrition and sustainable agriculture.
Kenya’s large dairy sector offers good opportunities to combat antimicrobial resistance but there are grave risks they might go undetected. The country’s Dairy Board says an average of 652.4 million liters of milk are produced annually, with earnings to producers estimated at 22.6 billion Kenya shillings (about $151 million). The sector, however, faces mutually reinforcing challenges, namely the dominance of small-scale, often unregulated producers, and the existence of antibiotic residue in milk, caused by some animal husbandry practices.
Teresia Ndung’u, Director for Livestock Production in Nyandarua County and a doctoral student at Kenya’s Egerton University, is among the Kenyans tackling this issue head-on, and devising solutions which, she says, will help bolster food safety in Kenya and East Africa as a whole.
“I had previously participated in a project known as Quality Based Milk Payment Systems, and antibiotic residues emerged as a real challenge to the processor and the consumer,” she said. “I came across a reagent able to detect whether micro-organisms were resistant.” Because she was working in a laboratory, she could ask to test samples of milk from different cows. She observed that the reagent did work, successfully detecting antibiotic resistance.
In our milk collection system, we have a number of farmers grouping together and the testing cost is very high, with one test going for over Kenya shillings 300 ($2). I felt that coming up with a solution that will be relatively cheaper for our farmers and a test that is simple to use [would be helpful], so that farmers and processors can identify antibiotic residues at the farm level.
“Once antibiotic residues get into the value chain of animal products, whether milk, eggs, or meat, there is no other process that can eliminate them. So, we need to identify them at the farm level. ”
Teresia argues that any intervention taken that does not incorporate the farmer will make very little difference given the complex nature of micro-organisms.
Her ground-breaking work has been made possible by a scholarship supported by World Bank International Development Association (IDA) funding for the Center of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management, based at Egerton University. “I have research funds and I have a stipend. So I will not struggle with [the cost of] transport [for] coming to Egerton or [with] paying my rent because my basic needs have been catered for,” Teresia said.
She is now looking at scaling up her smallholder-based solution, in order for it to reach the mass market and be part of an overall drive to help improve food safety. “I registered it under the Kenya Industrial Properties Institute and right now I have a certificate as an owner of a utility model. I hope that after my graduation, I will be able to patent it,” she said.
The Eastern and Southern Africa Higher Education Centers of Excellence Project (ACE II) (2016–2025) has been strengthening the capacity of higher education institutions to supervise quality post-graduate education and collaborative research. ACE II was funded by a $148 million IDA credit. Kenya is one of eight countries in the region that together host 24 ACEs, which focus on areas relevant to economic development, in industry, agriculture, health, education, and applied statistics.
Teresia says that whereas solutions for testing antimicrobial resistance do exist on the market, the cost of using them remains far beyond the reach of the ordinary, small-scale farmers who constitute an estimated 80% of Kenya’s milk producers.
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of The World Bank Group.